Not too many years ago I found myself uttering these incredibly cliched words: “I’m not religious, I just have a relationship with Jesus.” This was an echo of the words that I had heard time and again from my church leaders-“We’re not into religion, we’re into relationship.”

So, what is “religion?”

Over the years, I’ve begun to question what we mean by these words. I’ve struggled to reconcile what we who use this language project by it and what we enact by it. See, on the one hand we seem to have a firmly constructed idea of what constitutes “religion:” empty repetitious sayings and doings, and esoteric ideas about the nature of the world and life and death.

The True un-religion

Of course, each group of people who use this type of language claim (and I am only slightly generalizing here) that they are the true irreligious group. All others are still religious. This has struck me as incredibly ironic, as it was not that long ago that each group was proclaiming itself as the true “religion.”

But how is that not religious?

What has struck me as even more ironic is how much each of the irreligious group’s practices look an awful lot like what I consider religion. Without fail, each group claiming irreligiousness has some perspective that is in line with a seemingly irrational belief, or “superstition.” We’ve all got them, even the most diehard rational person has in some dark closet a superstition they cannot transcend.

Full disclosure: I am not against religion.

But I say this only with the understanding that religion is relationship. False religion is irrelational. Nope, that’s not a typo- irrelational. At a fundamental level, nothing we do or think can be completely justified from a rational point of view; we are simply irrational creatures. Our strange, “religious” practices are only empty when they are devoid of relational concern.

Religion is a particular way of being in relationship.

For Christians, our particular way of being in relationship is inextricably rooted in our fundamental faith in the redemptive and restorative work of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Our religion is a way of living with others that acknowledges and participates in this reality. And ironically, this reality cannot be participated in without practice, action; doing, saying, thinking and making.

Done with the bait and switch.

All of this boils down to a simple relational truth: you cannot be a Christian without religion, and you cannot be positively religious without positive relationship. I’m done with sloganeering and posturing to make Christianity sound like something it isn’t, or for that matter with only telling half truths to get people in. I’m done with the bait and switch. We are religious, and it’s time we acknowledge this and strive to be faithful in our religion.

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